Sales: Calculate your sales strategy before deploying the tactics

Last updated on May 13th, 2019 at 02:33 pm

Super Bowl XXXIX is history, and unless you’re a Patriots fan, you’re probably on to other things.
However, there’s a reminder to be taken from this – or any sporting event – that sales leaders should ponder a bit before eagerly moving on to next season: Each team had a strategy to win, but also a strategy to make the other team lose. And so it must be in sales.
Let’s consider two other "sporting events" in which competitors form both strategies to win and make their opposition lose – presidential campaigns and the competition to have your city chosen to host the Olympic Games.
A simple theme
Among the more effective campaigns in modern history was Bill Clinton’s 1992 bid for the presidency. It was this campaign that gave us, "It’s the economy, stupid!"
The competition to win the bid to host the Olympics is even more interesting than a presidential campaign. One city, Atlanta, referred to itself as a "Third World city" in its successful attempt to win the 1996 Olympics.
Each of these is a stellar example of strategy that achieved its goal. Both embody the two key elements of a winning strategy: They are simple and understandable themes, and they reflect a painstakingly detailed understanding of the competitive environment in which those involved were operating.
Through polls, focus groups and detailed voter research, the Clinton campaign understood that the driving issue for American voters in 1992 was the economy, and the campaign’s architects developed the vocabulary to speak to those concerns.
Know thy customer and thy competitor
In Atlanta, Billy Payne, president of the Atlanta Olympic Committee, and Mayor Andrew Young used a similar laser precision approach to mount their campaign. They knew that the International Olympic Committee was seeking a city with a strong African presence and the underdeveloped infrastructure of the Third World for the 1996 Summer Games, so they positioned the city to speak directly to their prospect’s buying criteria.
These two campaigns are good examples for another reason: they aren’t simply about the inherent strengths of the people or organizations implementing them.
Suppose you were running for president: You might be content to campaign on your strengths – perhaps an expertise in foreign policy – without paying attention to whether those strengths were resonating with the voting public.
Or suppose you were attempting to sell your own city as a prime Olympic location. You’d probably promote your city’s strong infrastructure, highway system, communications network, transportation facilities and so on. It certainly wouldn’t be obvious to you to promote your city as one of the poorest, most crime-ridden, least-educated, worst-housed municipalities in the nation.
Surely you wouldn’t talk about your city’s overloaded sewage system dumping tons of untreated waste into the local rivers and a state government that imposed a moratorium on new sewers. Yet that’s exactly what Young and Payne pointed out in their proposal to the IOC, bolstered by their understanding that, in the committee’s eyes, those attributes raised the city’s score rather than lowering it.
Business resource salespeople must take this kind of thinking to every single sales campaign. The business resource lives in a world of strategy, not the traditional salesperson’s world of benefits and solutions.
Go where they ain’t
Competitive strategy in sales is among the easiest concepts to understand, but probably the hardest to implement. Conceptually, competitive strategy is simple-"Go where they ain’t!" But your sales battles won’t be won or lost on a conceptual battlefield. They will be won or lost in the trenches, where the details will make all the difference.
Never mistake tactics for strategy, however. The salesperson who says, "My strategy at this account is to do X," is making exactly that error. If it’s something you can do, then it’s not a strategy ( it’s a tactic. A strategy is a theme, a thought, an image, a word picture, a message. The things you do are tactics, implemented when you’ve settled on a strategy.
The elements of modern day competitive strategy owe their birth to Sun Tzu, a general in the Chinese Army who lived over 2,500 years ago and wrote a remarkably thin, simple and readable book, "The Art of War." Consider some of his aphorisms that have survived more than two millennia:
( "The key to victory lies not in defeating the enemy but in defeating the enemy’s strategy. Therein lies his vulnerability."
( "He will win who knows when to fight and when not to fight."
( "We are not fit to lead an army unless we are familiar with the face of the country."
( "Your strength will eventually become your weakness."
( "The opportunity of defeating the enemy is provided by the enemy himself."
How do these principles apply to your sales teams? We’ll look at the details next time.
Jerry Stapleton and Nancy McKeon are with Stapleton Resources LLC, a Waukesha-based sales force effectiveness practice. They can be reached at (262) 524-8099 or on the Web at
February 18, 2005, Small Business Times, Milwaukee, WI
C:PublicSR LLCSBT columnStrategy.doc

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